IC submits findings in Dhrupad Sansthan sexual harassment cases; Bhopal-based institute may temporarily close
The committee looking into the students' allegations reportedly advised the Bhopal-based Sansthan, founded by the Gundecha Brothers, to use the time for 'internal reflection' and for instituting wide-ranging corrective measures.
An Internal Committee (IC) investigating allegations of sexual harassment at the prestigious Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal has reportedly advised that the institution be closed down for a period of six months to undertake “internal reflection” on the lapses that allowed the harassment of several former and current students by its founders, with all teaching, training, research, performances and events placed on hold in this duration.
This was one among an extensive series of directions by the IC shared on 22 February; a redacted version of its report has been viewed by Firstpost. Other suggestions included: a public statement on the part of the Sansthan acknowledging its failure to create a safe learning space for its women students, which led to sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of their gurus; and that members of the Gundecha family — three of whom were named in the sexual harassment plaints (one, posthumously) — should temporarily step down from their teaching and administrative positions at the Sansthan.
On 4 February 2020, Firstpost had reported that the Dhrupad Sansthan’s founders — the vocalists Umakant and (late) Ramakant Gundecha, and their cousin, the pakhawaj artiste Akhilesh Gundecha — had been accused of sexual misconduct by a group of current and former students. While the Sansthan publicly stated that it would be impartially examining these allegations, students said that reality of the institute’s response was not in line with its stated position and accused the management of mishandling the harassment complaints. The student and the Sansthan management further clashed on the composition of the IC that would look into these plaints.
Firstpost learned that the IC’s suggestions can be broadly categorised as institutional penalties, monitoring mechanisms and reparative governance. Overall, the Dhrupad Sansthan was said to have violated the provisions of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. Failing to comply with the statutory requirement to constitute an IC meant that women students and staff had no forum to approach with complaints of sexual harassment.
Three measures that the Sansthan will now need to consider, in line with the IC's suggestions, are —
1. That the Sansthan reconstitute its board of members with balanced representation of women and non-Gundecha family members.
2. That an external Board of Supervisors (of 3-5 members, experienced governors with proven track records and a background in the classical arts, not belonging to the Gundecha family) be convened for a term of three years. The task of this Board would be to oversee the setting up of a transparent, accountable and gender-sensitive system of governance at the institute.
3. That Umakant (trustee and chair of the Dhrupad Sansthan) and Akhilesh (trustee) Gundecha must not hold office at the Sansthan for a period of two years from the date that the Board of Supervisors takes charge. Further, they must step back from their teaching roles for a period of one year, after which they may resume under supervision. The duo has also been asked to go through a “sustained and intensive gender sensitisation process which includes counselling and therapy, with qualified professionals”.
#MeToo accounts from the domain of Indian classical arts have put the spotlight on how lack of proper institutional structures and a culture of obeisance embedded in the guru-shishya system creates a culture where sexual harassment and other abusive behaviour is carried out with impunity, or denied, normalised and dismissed.
On reaching out to the students/survivors’ collective and their support group for comment, this correspondent was told that while they welcomed the IC report, they had outlined a few expectations to the Sansthan over email: Public acknowledgement of the sexual abuse and harassment by the Gundecha brothers, as suggested by the IC; executing the recommendations of the IC and making its report public; action against Nirant Gundecha for issuing threats to survivors and their supporters; and ensuring a secure environment at the Sansthan. As per the POSH Act, they asked that the Secretary of the Dhrupad Sansthan, Anant Gundecha, file a police complaint against Akhilesh and Umakant Gundecha, and assist survivors in filing police complaints should they wish to do so.
No statement has been shared with Firstpost by the Dhrupad Sansthan so far. This article will be updated on receiving a comment from the Sansthan management.
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